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Travis Rowley: Unions are Not Dead

Saturday, June 16, 2012


While a number of local progressives have recently decided that unions have lost their influence over the RI Democratic Party, some of us knew better. And this week’s GoLocalProv story regarding the state budget and organized labor served to dispel this false reality.

It was almost as if these progressive pundits forgot what the NEA-RI divulges on its own website, that each year the union assembles a “legislative program” that is subjected to the union’s “Legislative Commission,” which “recommends possible changes” and then “reviews and decides positions on approximately 400 bills per General Assembly session.” Then they “lobby extensively to insure that the NEA-RI legislative goals are realized.”

You know, just like you and your family. No different.

For some, it was no surprise this week when GoLocalProv reported that, in addition to “several pieces of legislation backed by education reformers,” a “spike in the minimum wage,” “increased spending on education,” “the restoration of funding for the developmentally disabled,” and the “death of the Governor’s municipal relief package” were all “major coups” for organized labor.

Community Organizing

It’s also important to remember the radical character of union activism. Last year, reacting to the business leaders who helped fund the group EngageRI during the controversy over state pension reform, local labor religionist Patrick Crowley – the NEA-RI’s “Government Relations Specialist” – boasted over the unions’ power and devotion to their agenda: “The reason [CEOs] opened up their wallets isn’t because they wanted to save Rhode Island – it’s because they are now afraid of us and what we can do politically. And they should be.”

Crowley was referring to the machine politics of organized labor, the type of militant community organizing that conservatives have simply never been able to duplicate – and, frankly, aren’t interested in. Conservatives want to go to work. They want to raise their families. They want to start businesses. They don’t exactly enjoy “government relations.” Most of them just want to be left alone.

Of course, that’s too much to ask of Patrick Crowley, an outright socialist who never misses an opportunity to rail against the “capitalist class.”

One of the best examples of Crowley’s preference for centralized economic planning just may be his argument in favor of increasing wages for government workers in order to increase wages for private sector workers. Despite the fact that this has been a failed experiment right here in Rhode Island, Crowley can’t help but make the case that higher taxes would somehow result in a boost to the “base pay for the area.” According to Crowley, “By cutting the benefits and pay of one set of workers it further erodes the pay structures for all workers.”

Listen, we’re going to tax you a little more this year so we can increase the wages for public school teachers. But don’t worry, your wages will increase as a result.

Worker Manipulation

While Crowley is devoted to economic delusions, he still has more of an understanding of the power of organized labor than some of his progressive allies. Last year, Crowley offered hope to the labor movement after the battle over pension reform: “A motivated and engaged membership base of thousands of rank-n-file activists who spent the last six months working through what was essentially a political boot camp is worth more than all their hoarded gold.”

As Crowley was openly flaunting his hostility for the wealthy and his Marxist economic perspective – that rich people “hoard” their money at the expense of others – he was also letting the taxpayers know what they could soon expect from organized labor. Crowley was expressing his confidence in the organizing prowess of local unions.

More notably, Crowley was expressing his understanding of the socialist spell that most union members are under. Crowley is hardly the only union boss who speaks of a “redistribution of wealth from the working class and middle class to the elites” – instruction aimed at union members informing them that they are somehow victims of other people’s freedom to control their own money.

The result of such ignorant propaganda is righteous indignation on the part of thousands of workers, who then allow themselves to be organized by the likes of Crowley.

Crowley’s outlook on union members is no different than that of Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa Jr., who looked out over a sea of rallying workers last year and said, “President Obama, this is your army!”

Crowley’s outlook on union members is no different than the way his socialist allies from Netroots Nation view the rank-and-file: “More union members means a better progressive movement. You can’t have a successful progressive movement without a workers movement. It’s never been done in the history of progressive politics.”

For many labor leaders, it’s not about “workers’ rights.” It’s about a “progressive movement.”

Marxism and Labor

While technically an agent for public school teachers, Crowley not only fights for “better education funding,” but also for “issues like minimum wage increases, fixes to misclassification of workers…and tax equity.”

Crowley explained this week that these “pieces of legislation” are part of labor’s attempt to “build solidarity across the labor movement and with workers in general,” and to “make a positive impact in the lives of all working Rhode Islanders.”

Workers of the World, Unite!

Crowley is most certainly an intellectual disciple of Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven, the Marxist-revolutionary professors who in 1966 applauded “American workers [who] accepted and practiced the principle that each can benefit only as the status of workers as a whole is elevated…[Those who] bargained for collective mobility, not for individual mobility.”

In fact, there is no clear distinction between Crowley’s language and that of David Green, a leading member of the Democratic Socialists of America: “Our goal as socialists is to abolish private ownership of the means of production. Our immediate task is to limit the capitalist class’s prerogatives in the workplace…In the short run we must at least minimize the degree of exploitation of workers by capitalists. We can accomplish this by promoting full employment policies, passing local living wage laws, but most of all by increasing the union movement’s power.”

Dangerously Ideological

The time for being baffled by organized labor is over. Their kamikaze economic policies are rooted in a devotion to a failed philosophy – Marxist principles that include the redistribution of wealth, government control over industry, wealth without work, and a life without risk.

Union-Democrats are the only people who still reject the idea that the best condition for working men and women is to live within a society that offers as much opportunity as possible.

While it has been overwhelmingly accepted that Rhode Island’s dismal business climate is its biggest obstacle to prosperity, labor leaders stubbornly fight for business-stifling legislation such as increases to the minimum wage, new business taxes, tax hikes on “the rich,” and further regulation over the hiring process – all classic examples of central-planning interference that unavoidably results in hiring freezes, layoffs, and the lowering of wages.

But, according to the unions, all of this amounts to “standing up for the middle class.”

GoLocalProv reported this week that one of “the biggest wins for labor” this year was the defeat of Governor Chafee’s “set of legislation that would have freed up cash-strapped communities from several mandates and allowed them to freeze cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs).” As a result, “now the outlook is bleak for the likes of Woonsocket, West Warwick and Pawtucket, three distressed communities the Governor targeted (in addition to Providence) for relief.”

Organized labor just pushed more towns closer to bankruptcy, forcing the fate of Central Falls onto more municipal workers and retirees.

“The working people of our state had a very productive legislative session,” concludes AFL-CIO President George Nee.

Travis Rowley (TravisRowley.com) is chairman of the RI Young Republicans and author of The RI Republican: An Indictment of the Rhode Island Left.


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